Greg Garrett: Stepping Bravely Into the Future: A Conversation with Bishop Andy Doyle on the Episcopal Church, Part Two


Andy Doyle, the Episcopal Bishop of Texas, has made his name as a young, dynamic, and innovative church leader. The author of Unabashedly Episcopalian: Proclaiming the Good News of the Episcopal Church, an Episcopal bestseller, he has two books on the Church coming out this year: Church: A Generous Community Amplified for the Futurethis past spring, and A Generous Community: Being the Church in a New Missionary Age in the fall. Last week, Andy and I talked about what the Episcopal Church has to offer a world full of broken people searching for meaning. This week, in the final part of our conversation, we talk about evangelism, mission, and the upcoming Episcopal General Convention.

Greg Garrett : You employ the term "generous evangelism" in Church. Traditionally, Episcopalians have not been so great at evangelism, yet I know it's a call that you take very seriously. How would you suggest we go about doing generous evangelism?

Andy Doyle:  I want to suggest that there are many ways of sharing the Good News of God's love for us and the good news of the Episcopal Church with others - too many ways in fact to mention in this short interview. That being said we have to get over our shame of not sharing and being generous with the Gospel and then open ourselves up to how God wants us to share. Let me give you one concrete example.

Pick a Sunday - it's best if it is a big Sunday when people tend to return to church, so for the sake of the conversation we will say Easter. As a church, create a very pretty invitation to services on that day. You can have create something beautiful for you or go to your local FEDEX store. Put these in the pews. For a month, or four weeks to six weeks, before Easter you give these to your parishioners. I like to say don't worry about who you are supposed to share this with, just put it in your purse or in your pocket. Your work is to begin to pray to God that the person who is supposed to get this card will be revealed to you. Then go about your work and life - praying about the card. What will happen is a conversation, or something will emerge in your life unexpectedly where you will know that this person in front of you is to get this invitation. And you give it to them - no strings attached. Sometimes we get confused and think that evangelism and invitation is about the results: getting people into church. It is not. It is about sharing what we have with others after we listen to them and to God.

Let's say that you have a heart to do this. You want to share what you have found. Then put on your prayer list, on your refrigerator, by your bed, a prayer that simply says: "Lord, I want to share what I have found in you and in my church. Help me to see how you want me to do this work." I promise that through prayer and listening to God and to others it will emerge clearly what it is that you are to do as a generous person sharing God's love with others.

Generosity is never complicated. It always comes after listening, and is always freely given.

Greg Garrett : I know from earlier conversations and from this book that you feel the old model of people walking through the front doors of our churches on Sunday needs to shift to a model in which we reach out and touch the world all week long. What are some of the ways you are seeing that happen in the Diocese of Texas? What are some ways you personally are trying to be in regular contact and perhaps touching others outside the traditional bishop's role?

Andy Doyle:  Let me begin by the fact that I try on a regular basis to meet and be in conversation with people from other denominations and people in our community. I read and listen to a variety of voices out in the world. I also try to work on projects with people outside of my regular experience of church and context in Texas. Global relationships are important too, as they remind me that our way of doing mission and our way of organizing are rooted in our history and relationships.

As to the different work that is going on in Texas, we have five second-site campuses. We have a veterans' missional community emerging, and there are missional communities in prisons and in nursing homes. There are missional communities on school campuses and in neighborhoods. We have two monastic-type missional communities for young adults. We're engaging in conversations with our neighbors in laundromats, street corners, and in burger joints that are leading to new relationships, opened doors, and transformation. We have three congregations investigating multi-use, multi-purpose buildings that meet the needs of their neighbors while creating new profit centers and ministry fields. We have a number of community gardens that are feeding neighborhoods. We also have several people considering homes that live with a rule of life for senior adults and for young adults. And, we have one priest considering a farm ministry.

We are in fertile ground, and we are discovering that there is plenty of room for ministry and mission.

Greg Garrett : You say in the book that you believe in the role of seminaries, but the failure of some and difficulties faced by others in the Episcopal Church suggests some changes may be in order. What do you think theological education for the ministry needs to look like going forward? How, for example, should the seminaries respond?

Andy Doyle:  We have a great seminary in the Diocese of Texas that is looking at new ways and partnerships to meet the formation needs of laity and clergy alike in a changing mission climate. I am a strong supporter of seminaries, the kind of community they provide, and the ministry they offer to the church. I am also proud to be involved in several other seminaries - VTS and Sewanee specifically.

What I know is that seminaries are asking wonderful and difficult questions about the future. I believe to untangle that future we have to commit to residential and online training that is focused on relation building and context immersion. I think we need to free up teaching outside of the seminary campus to intentionally take formation resources out into the congregations. I believe we need to understand that we have been forming clergy for a different time and it is now time to form them for a new age.

Moreover, for the sake of theological education we cannot be an unhealthy diaspora. It is no longer okay to think about theological education without thinking of the advances and current thinking in pedagogical models that are at the forefront of education. Technology, the human sciences, communities, and what we know about how people learn are changing and seminaries, to be helpful to the church's mission, must step into this world with us.

Greg Garrett : We are coming up on General Convention, and this convention will be electing a new presiding bishop and debating some big changes in the structure and perhaps even emphasis of the Church. What wisdom might you pull from the research and writing you've done that you think would be most pertinent for delegates and observers of the process this summer?

Andy Doyle:  First, let us not take ourselves too seriously. We must do the hard work of reimagining the revelation of God's church, the ecclesia. We are trying to move toward that vision and we know we are not going to get there! We just aren't, so it won't be the coming of the reign of God and it won't be the end of the world if we pass or don't pass particular things. What we must remember is that we are groaning, as all creation is groaning, toward God's dream of us.

Second, we have a great responsibility to do our best. We must engage fully, prayerfully, and with our whole selves to move our organization into a mission-supporting organism that gets out of the way of creativity and innovation, supports the grass roots work of the Church, and creates or renews structures. We have inherited a system created mostly by men that resembles the very best organization of the 19th century. We must listen carefully to the wisdom and voices of many people inside General Convention, but more importantly outside of General Convention, creating a strong sense of where we are to go and how we are to help our people in congregations do ministry. This is the work. The work is the local transformation of lives. So we must endeavor to make those necessary expansions in difference to help us hear all God's people and we must act upon such wisdom gathered.

Thirdly, "best practices" alone won't get there. Better examples from culture, organizational knowhow, the gifts and talents of the masses of Episcopalians gathered won't get us there. What will is having a vision of what God is inviting us into, which is nothing less than the divine community. We are inheritors, we are the family of Abraham, we are the ones who are to join our God on the last day. So it is that we must grab hold of God's vision of a peaceful community, a safe community, a healthy community, a community where resources are shared, and a community of forgiveness, love, mercy, and kindness. Trying to have this heart vision, articulating this vision, and listening to others as they offer their visions will be what will drive the positive and forward-moving action that our churches need in a mission organization.

Lastly, two quotes: "Do not fear," and "You have been called for just such a time as this." We are invited to venture with Jesus away from the shore. We are invited to leave the safety of our homes and what is comfortable - even what we have worked our whole lives to obtain. We must set out with Jesus into the sea and out into the world.

We have been called for just such a time as this, Mordecai says. You and I have been called for just such a time as this. This is our vision. This is our time. This is our opportunity to write the legacy of the Church of God and how it responded to this era and this context. We should not be afraid and we should pick up our mantel of leadership and step bravely into the future.

From Greg's blog at